Boyd Tonkin: Squatting public property helped to save my first library. Don't make it a crime

The Week in Books

Today is National Libraries Day. As local authorities present an upbeat view of what the jargon now terms their "offer" to citizens, campaigners against shutdowns will highlight the harm done by cuts already made or those due to take effect. In Newcastle, where the city's Labour council - in a kamikaze strategy aimed at Whitehall-enforced austerity - plans to close 10 libraries (out of 18) and eliminate all arts spending, Tyneside writers such as Val McDermid and Ann Cleeves will "occupy" the threatened branches for an hour. I wish them well, and bring good news from the far-from-soft south. Thanks to a bold and shrewd fightback by the local community, Friern Barnet Library in north London - the lovely little branch where my reading life began in earnest - has been saved from closure.

I apologise for another return to the scene of so many childhood discoveries. But the Friern Barnet story stands as a telling microcosm of library activism. For the moment, its outcome looks far happier than I expected a year ago.

Despite a warmly supported campaign by users, and a tightly-costed rescue proposal, Barnet council locked up the branch last April. It seemed to want to knock down the elegant building and sell the land for flats - or maybe just another supermarket. The false promise of a new library in a nearby - but much less accessible - arts centre came to nothing. Then "squatters" linked to the Occupy movement entered the premises in early September. Since then, they have - responsibly and effectively - co-operated with campaigners to restock the library and keep it alive.

Meanwhile, the push to save the branch had succeeded in registering the building as a "community asset": harder to demolish. Although a judge granted an eviction order against the occupiers before Christmas, her verdict showed sympathy with them. In effect, she pressed the council to cut a deal. That it has now done.

On Tuesday, Barnet council handed the branch keys over to the trustees of Friern Barnet Community Library. They have a temporary licence to run the service while - in the first instance - a two-year lease is negotiated. The council, which snubbed and scorned the campaigners, has offered £25,000 towards the running-costs: not enough, but it still means that the branch may be able to employ a professional librarian again. This is not a perfect result. If the eviction order had been challenged on appeal, a legal right for community groups to take over vital services at risk of closure might (improbably) have emerged. Remember, too, that the occupiers could make a credible case because they simply had to defend a civil action. If new legislation that seeks to outlaw squatting in business as well as residential property had passed by now, they would have come before the judge as criminal suspects.

Still, as occupier Phoenix said to me, "We've saved the library for future generations. And we've done the best we could in very difficult circumstances." A success? Certainly. But it leaves many chapters yet to be written. In Friern Barnet, a well-run but potentially "illegal" occupation gave an extra cutting-edge to a strong pre-existing protest that had - frankly - drawn from a high-handed council little except delays and evasions. Not every community has the means or the will to stage such a coup.And, without all the hard slog of the previous campaign, the "squatters" would not have had the resources on hand to boost their cause. All the same, in the unlikely location of London N.11, a peaceable takeover seems to have turned the tide. I never thought I would find myself endorsing again that old mantra of every droning student-union bore: "direct action". But, guess what? It worked - without any damage or disruption, and in the best of causes. Which branch will be next?

Blame the other guys: Daunt does an Osborne

As in politics, so in business. The new guys trash the old regime and backdate all the blame. Waterstones has just posted dire results: £37.3m losses. So MD James Daunt (right) plays the Tory card, laying the lot at the door of the previous administration. True, ex-MD Dominic Myers was shackled to his zombie bosses at the HMV group. He couldn't do that much, or fast enough, during a short spell in charge. I still found him smart, well-meaning, full of good ideas. But Mr - "George Osborne" - Daunt doesn't go in for historic shades of grey.

Richard reconstructed, and revised

From mitochondrial DNA to the mechanics of the car-park dig, I can't get enough of the investigation that has located the skeleton of Richard III in Leicester. Yet the identification of his bones does not sway the scales of history one way or another. Still, the White Rose revisionists have come out in force, and Bloomsbury has already signed the first post-confirmation book on the king - by historian David Horspool. It's the right moment, surely, for a new annotated edition of Josephine Tey's classic from 1951: The Daughter of Time, in which a detective delves into Richard's life. Inspector Grant concludes that Tudor propaganda wrecked the king's good name and falsely fixed a double murder (the Princes in the Tower) on him. Tey's book famously shows how historical myths take root, and how tough they can be to dislodge. Forget Goveian platitudes. Tey should be set in every school.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor